Denver city officials said Wednesday they are examining options to significantly boost the size of an affordable housing fund that is projected to raise $150 million over a decade.
More than a year after the City Council approved the fund, Mayor Michael Hancock's administration is responding to a year-long push by community activists in the group All In Denver to send a large housing bond to voters. Several City Council members have joined the chorus in recent months, with some — including President Albus Brooks — echoing the activists' call to at least double the local fund's target of generating $15 million a year.
So far, it's too early to know how much more the city would raise, if voters would have a say and whether the city would borrow a large lump sum or increase annual spending.
But the Hancock administration's softening of its stance could relieve pressure in one longstanding area of dispute in the city's affordable housing strategy.
Other key points of tension remain as the council prepares in coming weeks to adopt the administration's five-year plan for spending the local housing fund.
While generally lauding the plan, several members have voiced increasingly public disagreements with parts of Hancock's housing strategy, including during a two-hour committee meeting Wednesday. A common complaint is that the new housing plan seems to lack urgency, despite Hancock's focus in speeches and public comments on the housing affordability crunch.
"I don't want to see a (report) title that says 'Housing an Inclusive Denver' -- I want to see a title that says 'Addressing Denver's Housing Crisis,' " Councilman Paul Kashmann told city housing officials while presiding over Wednesday morning's meeting of the Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee.
"Until we get that squarely in our thought process," he added, "we're going to be spinning our wheels. There's no way you can implement the great (planning) work that's been done thus far without a major infusion of dollars."
The $15 million coming from the local housing fund this year is expected to boost housing-related spending from other longstanding sources, including federal grants, to a total of $31.3 million. The new fund takes in property taxes and development impact fees, but lower-than-projected fees have been offset by general fund transfers.
To further increase the total money available, the plan's final version says city officials are now analyzing the potential of a bond issue or new fees; they plan to discuss options publicly in the spring. Brooks says he wants to corral money that's sitting unused in city funds.
The housing proposal calls for a plethora of assistance and stabilization programs for lower-income renters, homeowners and the homeless; experimental initiatives, including one that will use city money to "buy down" rents on empty market-rate apartments; and housing subsidies.
The plan projects that by 2023, current levels of funding will help 30,000 households either obtain or stay in housing they can afford.
The committee, voting 6-1, advanced the housing plan to the full council for consideration Feb. 20. Rafael Espinoza voted no. Some members, with qualms remaining, said they would turn their focus to influencing the annual housing action plans that will implement it.
Brooks, Espinoza and Debbie Ortega were among several who said they wanted the administration to target more assistance to the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, given the housing pressures that might result from the National Western Center project and the Interstate 70 project.
"Why the heck can't we get a community land trust?" Brooks said, referring to an idea pushed by neighborhood activists that has yet to receive a city commitment. The final housing plan does include a pledge to consider such community-driven efforts.
Council members also amplified doubts about the transparency of administration decision-making on which programs to give money and how much officials have consulted the city's Housing Advisory Committee.
Eric Hiraga, executive director of the Denver Office of Economic Development, acknowledged those concerns and the desire for more urgency.
"The administration and the HAC are hearing that there is a need for aggressive change," he told the committee. "Our hope is that we can pass the five-year policy and we can get to work, roll up our sleeves, and get to that (action) plan for 2018."